Blind Learn to See with Sounds (but Not with Sonar)

Guest_Jim_* - November 8, 2012 07:07AM in Science & Technology

For possibly most people, the thought of losing their sight would be terrifying, but a world without vision is reality for many people. That terror though has fueled a great deal of research to prevent blindness and to help the blind survive in our visual world. Now researchers have found a way to give the blind an ability to 'see,' as reported in the Cell Press journal Neuron.

Really what the research boils down to is that the human brain is far more amazing than we thought. In the past the belief was that if a part of the brain, such as the visual cortex, was not utilized it could not be used to process visual information. This research challenges that idea by showing that when the congenitally blind adult subjects were trained to use Sensory Substitution Devices (SSDs), the brain was able to process the input into visual information. In this case, the SSDs converted images into sounds.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this research though was that after just ten hours of training the subject's Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) of the brain was being activated by letters. This region activates for sighted people upon seeing and reading letters, so for it to activate for the blind when using SSDs is very important for potentially giving the blind the ability to read. It just goes to show that you should never underestimate the human brain. (Videos at the source link.)